You will have heard the oft-used phrase “I am a work in progress.” Perhaps you have used it yourself. For myself, when I have used this phrase in the past, it has been a self-deprecating way to explain away my flaws or less-than-perfect behaviours.
It is ok to use this phrase about yourself, as long as it is a positive declaration about what changes are yet to come, and you are actively participating in the transformation process!
This is Part 3 in a series on your new identity as a believer and disciple of the Christ.
As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within. God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.
In Part 2, we discussed the nature of covenant relationship, and in particular, the new covenant and your place in it. You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord. A covenant relationship always has 2 participants: under the new covenant, these are the Holy Spirit and you.
At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ. In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you. This declaration is as in a court of law: all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed. In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him. The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you. In theological terms, this is called justification.
From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone. You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent. In theological terms, this is called sanctification.
The process of sanctification within you is NOT optional. In real terms, this is the response to God’s command from Leviticus 20:26, re-stated in 1 Peter 1:16: “Be holy, because I am holy”. The new covenant has not just saved your soul from death and hell, and fitted you for a heavenly dwelling place some day… it has restored and reinstated the image and glory of God within you that was present at creation before mankind sinned against God. Under the new covenant, through the covenant (2-sided) process of sanctification, your life needs to progressively display more visible evidence of the glory of God. In effect, sanctification is extending the kingdom of God within you.
In part this is about you, but only part… God loves you, and wanted to set you free from the bondage and death-grip of sin. Moreover, He loves you too much just to leave you as a newborn babe… having new life, but remaining there, with no growth or transformation.
But it is actually ALL about Him, about His design for creation, and mankind’s role (including your role) in His design to extend His glory throughout (and over) all creation. That is the real purpose of the gospel… your new identity is not just about you, but about God and the work of His kingdom. Through His new covenant relationship with you, the moral righteousness of the gospel is being extended through every part of you, transforming you to reflect the glory of God. But He also works this transformation within you to extend his kingdom outward into every area of creation, preparing the world and its people (His people) for Messiah’s return. There will be more on this in Part 5.
This is why your new identity under the new covenant demands a covenant response. Your life is not your own. It belongs to Him – all of it. The continual process of sanctification is the new covenant relationship at work within you – and it is hard work. The Holy Spirit is in partnership with you – as an active participant – to put into effect the gospel in all its fullness within you. This does not enhance your declared righteous standing before Him, but it is reclaiming you as a representative and ambassador of God.
The process of sanctification extends morally righteous character into every area of your life, with your consent and involvement in continual choices. As this morally righteous character grows within you, and the old nature is progressively put to death, (and it MUST be put to death), it is possible for your new identity, the morally righteous character, to become your normative response instead of your old way of doing things.
What is the litmus test of this covenant process of sanctification within you? Obviously it is the evidence of change and growth in your life, to increasingly reflect God’s character in your thoughts, words and actions.
We like to work from lists and rules as evidence of our adherence to a standard of behaviour, (in this case “holiness”), but at best, lists and rules are not exhaustive but only illustrative of deeper principles and attitudes. It is to these deeper principles and attitudes that we must go.
I have already referred to God’s instruction to “be holy, because I am holy”. This is an underlying principle, but in God (and in those He considered righteous) it manifested itself not just in holiness, and justice, and righteousness, but in an attribute called “hesed“. Hesed, translated in one bible version as “lovingkindness”, has a much deeper nuanced meaning which could be stated as “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and as “covenant faithfulness and love in action”. This is a foundational character trait of God, evident in his behaviour toward His people. Through the new covenant, hesed has been planted within us as part of our new identity.
This is identified by the Messiah when He summed up the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”. Paul in Corinthians 13 identifies love as the foundational characteristic of the new covenant Spirit-filled life. And in Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians, and in other places, the characteristics of the indwelling Holy Spirit are listed as visible evidence in your life (the “litmus” test) of the glory of God: “be kind to each other, tenderhearted; and forgive each other, just as in the Messiah God has also forgiven you. So imitate God, as his dear children; and live a life of love, just as also the Messiah loved us, indeed, on our behalf gave himself up as an offering…” (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2)
This then, is the litmus test, which we can apply to ourselves, of the state of growth within us of His moral righteousness. It is in the fruit that we are producing, both seen and unseen, and in the extension of His kingdom both within us and through us, that His moral righteousness, our kingdom effectiveness, is demonstrated – or not.
This self-test involves realistic self-examination and required course correction, asking yourself such questions as: “What is my focus?” “What is my response to people and situations?” “What are my desires?” “What thoughts, words, and behaviours in my life do not honour or bring glory to God, and must therefore be removed (put to death).?” Ask the Lord what HE wants YOU to do.
In this process of continual self-examination, listen to the Holy Spirit within you… and do so together with the Word of God open before you, which you need to be reading every day, to ensure that what you are hearing is from the Holy Spirit. Look at the fruits in your life. Course correct and repent. And then act on what you hear.
In doing so, beware of your own attempts to rationalize, justify, make excuses for, or explain away behaviours that are not ok. This is equivalent to self-deception and a refusal to be an active participant along with the Holy Spirit in your sanctification for His glory. Also, this process will be painful at times. This is normal and necessary.
The litmus test is best administered through Galatians 5:13-21. What fruits are being produced in your life?
If, for any reason, your thoughts, your words, or your behaviours illustrate the fruits of the old nature (the “flesh”), then they do not bring glory to God, no matter what you think your reasons or motivation might be. In this case, recognize it, renounce it, and submit to actively participating in the Holy Spirit’s course correction.
In all circumstances, your thoughts, your words and your behaviours must illustrate the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit: if they do, you are bringing glory to God and giving evidence of His kingdom at work.
As a refresher, here are the lists from Galatians 5:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:
immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
2 last thoughts…
First, the fruit of the Spirit need to be evident in all of your responses, unconditionally.. i.e. your actions, thoughts, words, etc. are not dependent upon circumstances, or upon the actions, thoughts, words, etc. of anyone else. This is a process in sanctification.
Second, as we will discuss more in Part 5, the fruits of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.
In Part 4, we will look at your place and responsibility in the kingdom of God (why the covenant process of sanctification is necessary), and also provide kingdom perspective on blessing and suffering that we face.